New Stanford study shows virtual avatars and environments can affect your mood

December 26, 2022

By Sharan Kaur Phillora

Your choice of virtual environments and avatars can promote positive psychological outcomes when you’re using virtual reality headsets. Stanford University researchers reported in a research paper that personalized avatars and pretty environments could be psychologically restorative in a study.

Here’s what we know:

The researchers wrote in a blog post that the ability to transform your appearance as an avatar and experiencing outdoor environments in VR could have profound impacts on users in the metaverse — the term for immersive virtual worlds, such as those experienced through VR headsets, where people are increasingly gathering to play and work, the researchers said.

In an email to GamesBeat, Bailenson said the team set out to find how people’s behaviors and attitudes change over time, how people’s behaviors and attitudes change when they are embodying and surrounded by different avatars, and how people’s behaviors and attitudes change when they are interacting in different environmental contexts.

“In the metaverse, you can be anyone or anywhere,” said study lead author Eugy Han, a doctoral student in communication, in a statement.“Our ongoing work reported in this study shows who you are and where you are matters tremendously for learning, collaborating, socializing, and other metaverse activities.”

The study, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, is the latest to come out of Stanford University’s innovative Virtual People course. Taught by Bailenson and colleagues, the course is among the first and largest ever conducted mostly in VR, the researchers said.

For the study, 272 students used VR headsets to meet in virtual environments for 30 minutes once a week over eight weeks. During those sessions, the students participated in two experiments, accumulating hundreds of thousands of minutes of interactions for researchers to analyze.

The findings suggested that people can take advantage of the available grandness of VR by opting for big, outdoor environments instead of recreating cramped meeting rooms or lecture halls.

“At the very core of collaboration is people attending and productively reacting to one another,” said Bailenson in a statement. “And our data show that all these great downstream things happen when you make your virtual rooms huge compared to a traditional office space.”

Another experiment found that when represented by avatars that looked like themselves, the students displayed more non-verbal synchrony, meaning they gestured and postured similarly to one another. Dovetailing with these observations, the students reported feeling more “in sync” with themselves and each other when congregating as self-avatars, the researchers said.

The two experiments found that the reported benefits of interacting virtually as certain avatars and in certain environments grew over time. Bailenson says those findings suggest the effects are enduring and not just isolated, positive VR experiences.

About the author

Sharan Kaur Phillora’s thirst for knowledge has led her to study many different subjects, including NFTs and Blockchain technology – two emerging technologies that will change how we interact with each other in the future. When she isn’t exploring a new idea or concept, she enjoys reading literary masterpieces.

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